All about Soapstone

Ann Marie DiTomaso write about soapstone use, selection, repair and care. She talks from experience and has designed hundreds of soapstone kitchens, answered the concerns of just as many homeowners and heard back from most of them after the sale to get feedback regarding soapstone.

Oiling Soapstone:
What type of oil do I use on Soapstone? Soapstone does not have pores; (unlike granite that does have pores) Soapstone should be oiled with Mineral Oil. It can be found in just about any store near the Rolaids, Tums and antacids as it is a natural digestive oil. One bottle costs about $3.00. It will last you for years! To oil soapstone, use a cotton cloth or paper towel, coat the cloth with mineral oil and apply. Use it just like you would when oiling furniture, wipe off the excess and enjoy! It is recommended to keep the cotton cloth in a zip loc bag, as the oils will penetrate the cloth and will not need to be “broken in” with the next use/application.

Cleaning Soapstone:
Although most people will tell you, “Just use hot soapy water” I have and do use on a daily basis, Clorox wipes. This will assure me the bacteria from a days use. I do have teenagers in a well used kitchen and it is taken care of with no worries. You can also use Windex. The ammonia in this will take care of any bacterial issues as well! It’s soap stone! It can handle it!

What happens if my Soapstone Scratches?
Repairing Process:
1. Softer soapstone species are more vulnerable to scratching. Not all soapstone species are as soft as each other. In fact some are very soft while other species are nearly as hard as granite. Just as wood can be as soft as Balsa wood or as hard as Oak, soapstone too varies in hardness from species to species. If the surface of your soapstone gets scratched, gently go over the scratch with a piece of 400 grit sandpaper, using a smooth, circular motion.
2. Wet the sandpaper, and sand the scratch again, using a smooth, circular motion.
3. Wet a sponge with warm water, and wipe away any residual dust.
4. Pour a small amount of mineral oil onto a soft cloth and rub it into the area that was sanded to help restore its luster and natural dark color. The sanding will remove the mineral oil and make the color lighter, so you may need to apply the mineral oil several times to even out the color of the scratched and sanded area.
If you would like to keep the “chalky” Soapstone look, then do not oil the stone. As your hands touch the counter they will leave body oils behind and give the counters a old world look or patina. As you use your counters, (making a salad for example) oils may splash onto the counter adding to the overall patina. If the counters begin to look too spotty for your liking, just re-oil them. The oil will dissipate over a period of time; this is the beauty of soapstone! As the oil evaporates (depending on the humidity in your home) it is a constantly changing look, from a brilliant freshly oiled look back to the chalky look, it’s never the same thing day to day. It’s ever evolving! Adding to the fun of your counters!

Soapstone scratches easier than granite, true. Again the beauty of soapstone is that scratches actually add to the patina! Try scratching a sample. It should be easy enough to get a sample from your local fabricator. See firsthand just how hard or soft that particular species is. If you are able to scratch the stone, oil it with mineral oil and watch the scratch become part of the stone, adding to the veins, and old world charm.

What scenario does soapstone fit in? Soapstone certainly fits the old world look, and yet is equally at home in a crisp modern look, it fits into both extreme scenarios. If you want the 200 year old look, soapstone is an option. If you are going for the modern minimalist look, soapstone again may be the answer. If you do not like the “bling” granites polished look has, soapstone may be just the answer!

Some people will tell you that if you hone a black granite, you will get the same look of soapstone for less money and less maintenance. This is NOT true! Although you may have a similar look, hone-ing granite actually OPENS the pores, and makes your counters much more susceptible to staining. It also removes the protective resin finish that filled those pores and was baked into the stone itself. Removing the resin finish is not a good idea.

Let me explain, granites are polished at the quarry. Polishing closes off the pores, which reduces the risk of staining. Then a resin finish is applied and baked onto the stones surface. When a stone is honed, the honing process actually removes the resin and opens the pores allowing oils and other staining agents into the stone. The most noticeable stains are found in the very light or very dark stones. Mid-tone stones tend to mask or hide staining. Think of the black dress or white shirt that makes stains really stand out.

How many types of soapstone are there? Why might I read there are only two types of soapstone? Well, that is all that that particular supplier carries. They can not sell what they do not have. Therefore there must only be two types. There are many different soapstone quarries all around the world.

All species have a distinct and unique look. Let’s start with Amazonas Black Soapstone. This is the most common of the soapstone. This is what was used in science class with the Bunsen burners and acids…they used this stone because it could stand up to the abuse these items, and the children in the class could dish out, over decades of time, they still look beautiful!

Some lots will have heavy veining, others minimal veining. You need to see the lot in order to know what works in your environment. You will not want to oil the slab! We use water to represent what the counters will look like installed. So ask for a bottle of water, or a soaked paper towel wipe the slab down, and watch as the stone come to life right before your eyes! The veins actually “pop” out of the slab. Mother Nature in your face!

Another type is Dorado Minas Soapstone. This stone is a lighter gray with cream to green larger more prominent veins. It tends to have little maple colored flecks in the stone. Looks great with Maple cabinets!

Another Soapstone: Cinza This is a beautiful black background with green foreground. It has the appearance of a colored Easter egg, speckle like. It has some beautiful green veins! a nice link with beautiful pictures and more info.

Anastasi Soapstone: Starting this one off with the photo first. The veins and movement in this stone are unique and beautiful! A rich jade (several shades of green!) with lighter sways and movement. You can feel the talc the stone…..beautiful!!

Parana Gray (also come Brushed!) This is similar to the Dorado Minas, as it is a lighter gray stone. It has subtle to extreme veins and as mentioned above you can get this in a brushed finish. Meaning, there is a texture to the stone. Very old world, very different!

Temperature resistance: Soapstone is temperature resistant up to 2800! So take that screaming hot lasagna out of the oven, place it on your counters! No worries!! At 2800 degrees you have bigger worries than the counter marking! Be careful in doing this as your counter will be hot! Yes, I felt compelled to disclaimer that! If McDonalds has to say it on a hot cup of coffee…well, you get the point!

Some fun with stone: Try placing a bag of ice on your counters (lets say your making a pie crust) begin making the crust as the bag of ice sits on the counter. When you are ready to roll the dough out, remove the ice, flour and the dough will not stick to the counter! It’s as easy as pie to flip the crust! (Sorry for the pathetic pun!)

How about some ice-cream?? Place your bag of ice on the counter. Let it sit for about 10-20 min. Remove the bag of ice and place your ice-cream on the counter, add some toppings, using a plastic knife, chop in your toppings and enjoy! (you’ll pay out the nose for this same treat if you go out for it!!)

Let’s go to the opposite side of the spectrum…take your Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven. Let it sit on the counter where you will place your rolls and horderves (it’s already recommended that the turkey sits for 20 min or so before serving…make good use of this time!!) Now, get the turkey ready for carving, and place your items to be kept warm in place of the turkey…they will stay warmer longer!

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